As a fair number of people are finding this blog and series of posts whilst looking for information on John Ansell’s “Colourblind New Zealand” and “Treatygate” campaigns, I thought it would be useful to have a series of primers on the central tenets of his claims, showing why we should not support his campaigns. In the previous post I provided a series of reasons as to why Ansell’s “equality for all under the law” thesis rests upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the process of restitution that are the Treaty Settlements and how he and his allies mistake the renaissance of Māori culture for Māori somehow having more privileges than other New Zealanders. In this post, I will show that Ansell’s “Treatygate” thesis is a vapid conspiracy theory.
What is “Treatygate?”
“Treatygate” is the thesis that the series of treaty settlements both show that Māori are more privileged than Pākehā in Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu1 and that New Zealand history is being perverted and changed by both Māori and Pākehā cultural elites to justify these settlements. As such, “Treatygate” is a conspiracy theory. It is a thesis that rests upon a claim of conspiracy which says:
- 1. These exists a set of plotters (the Māori and Pākehā cultural elites, including members of both major political parties) who
2. Seek to advance an agenda to give the country back to Māori and deny New Zealanders their true history
3. Work towards this goal in secret (in that the true history of this place is being kept hidden from the populace and the real reasons for treaty settlements is not being admitted to).
The Treatygate thesis, as espoused by the arguments of John Ansell, is an argument claims there is a conspiracy about Māori which, despite the alleged statistical data, are highly privileged in New Zealand society and that the true history of this place is being kept from ordinary New Zealanders.
Why is the thesis behind “Treatygate” a bad argument?
With respect to the first claim, that Māori are highly privileged, the statistics say otherwise. Ansell and company avoid this, in part, by claiming the problem with Māori is a Māori concern which should be solved by Māori and thus Ansell and company place the blame on iwi leaders.
Note two things about this move.
- 1. This kind of argument makes out that Māori are, in some sense, not proper New Zealanders. Ansell’s argument assumes the very thing he is trying to persuade and prove to his audience: Māori do not believe themselves to be like the rest of the New Zealand population. That may be Ansell’s view, but he has no good argument to back it up. Rather, he just asserts it and moves on.
2. By placing the blame on Māori, Ansell ignores the role of colonisation in the socio-economic environment that is New Zealand. Ansell’s argument is entirely economic when it comes to solving the problems of Māoridom and yet seems to be almost entirely social when it comes to pointing out how Pākehā are, somehow, disadvantaged by the process of Treaty settlements.
It is hard to show that Pākehā are economically disadvantaged by such settlements, so Ansell and company have to talk about Māori having more of some set of amorphous rights than other New Zealanders (such as access to the Waitangi Tribunal). It’s. tricksy argument because it trades on a feeling of being disadvantaged rather than actual disadvantage and it is subject to a lot of goal post shifting; even if you can conclusively show that Pākehā and Tau Iwi are better off than Māori with respect to health statistics, arrest rates and the like, there are a lot of other areas in which such people feel worse off even if they actually aren’t.
With respect to the Treatygate claims about the true history of Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu being kept from ordinary New Zealanders, Ansell and his allies have two tactics which they use to try to show up conventional New Zealand history as being wrong.
The first is to claim that modern histories are pro-Māori and anti-Pākehā, and thus such histories overlook the benefits the Europeans brought to this place.
The second is to claim that Māori are not, properly understood, indigenous to Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu either by claiming that when the Māori first arrived there was another people living here or by claiming that as Māori only arrived some six to eight hundred years prior to the Europeans, that Māori are also recent settlers like other New Zealanders.
The first claim, about the nature of contemporary historical interpretations of early Colonial/Māori interactions, rests upon a misunderstanding of how History and historical interpretation works. Ansell and his allies will point towards histories written in the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century and say “These histories show both a Māori society that was in decline (socially and economically) and a willingness (indeed, eagerness) to embrace British rules and values.” They will then point to modern histories and argue that such modern histories either ignore these early histories or dispute them. They then conclude by saying “These earlier writers witnessed what they wrote about first hand; if modern historians are ignoring them, then what is there reason?” or “If modern historians dispute these earlier accounts, are they doing so because its PC,” with the assumption the real reason is that modern historians have or are part of an agenda to hide or obscure the truth of what happened in the early days of Māori/Pākehā interactions.
The issue with this suggested conspiracy is this: these early writers Ansell and company rely upon were often not historians and, even when they were historians, they were writing their histories in a way that is now thought to be problematic.
Historians work from a corpus of archival materials and modern historians are particularly sensitive to the possible political nature of their work. Whilst it seems obvious in retrospect, it is really quite a modern notion to recognise that when people write about events, such accounts can (and often do) reflect the political leanings of both their day and the writer’s own beliefs about the kind if world they think they live in. When it comes to Colonial history, many writers sought to show the benefits European civilisation had brought to New Zealand whilst others wanted to play up the devastation the Pākehā wrought. Modern historians have to sort through these varying accounts and try to discern the facts of history from the political polemics that such histories are wrapped in2. Ansell, and his Treatygate researchers, work solely from pro-Colonial accounts and ignore the other historical data. This is the same kind of sin they charge the holders of the orthodox history as committing.
Indigeneity, a lack thereof
Ansell’s second line of argument, about indigeneity, is a rather more curious beast. Ansell has expressed conditional support for the work of Martin Doutré, an amateur historian and archaeologist who has written both on Treaty issues and on the pre-history of Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounami. Doutré claims there was a pre-Māori, Celtic people who lived in New Zealand and were wiped out and/or absorbed into Māori. If this claim were true, it would speak against Māori being indigenous and a first people. He also provides evidence to back up his claims, but the evidence he provides does not clearly support his thesis. Like many amateur archaeologists, his site interpretations seem to be attempts to find evidence for his theory pre-Māori people rather than engaging in a process of discovery, where the evidence leads him to the development of a theory. His interpretations of the oral histories and mythology of the Māori are equally problematic, as I have outlined here in an earlier post.3
Ansell and company want Doutré’s work to be treated as some kind of plausible historical narrative but their standard of plausibility is not the usual standard we associate with good historical research. Plausible historical accounts are explanations of events based upon our best inferences. The standard of plausibility Doutré (and Ansell) want us to operate with is the “If it’s possible it might be true, we should investigate it” kind, which shows they are either confusing or deliberately conflating “possibility” with “probability.” If you counter this and say “But it’s so unlikely, so why should we bother?” they will response with some claim like “What is it you are trying to hide?” thus assuming the very academic conspiracy they are concerned with.
Doutré’s work is not taken seriously by historians or archaeologists and it belongs to a particular school of fringe archaeology practised worldwide which claims to find evidence of earlier, now forgotten, supercultures which once spanned the globe but, somehow, didn’t leave behind any robust records of their existence. Whilst Ansell has expressed support for Doutré generally,, Ansell refuses to accept that he has explicitly endorsed the pre-Māori thesis4. Thus, if pushed, Ansell will distance himself from this particular view, which means a second strand of argumentation is needed to bolster the claim that Māori are not indigenous.
The argument Ansell and his supporters seem to fall back on, then, is to say “Māori are immigrants/recent settlers too.” They claim that Māori are like the rest of the New Zealand population: people who got here recently by boat and thus are no more deserving of the claim of being indigenous than someone whose family has been here four generations or so. The fact that Māori have been here for a significantly longer time, had a unique and developed culture, their own language and the like is irrelevant, it seems, to the holders of this view.
However, none of this really matters; the Treaty makes no claim about Māori being a first people or having been here a long time. It simply recognises that they were here before Pākehā. This entire strand of argumentation is a distraction, a reason to get angry at “them uppity Maoris.” It has no bearing on whether the Treaty process is just and fair.
Ansell’s conspiracy theory about New Zealand history and the Treaty process is implausible and unwarranted: his claim that there is a conspiracy, by the Māori and cultural/political elites in New Zealand society is a claim that can be easily dismissed via an analysis of the kind of evidence he uses to buttress his arguments5.
Ansell’s argument for the existence of a conspiracy looks more complex than it really is. This is because, in part, he has collected a large amount of disparate evidence to support it, most of which relies on radical reinterpretations of New Zealand’s pre-contact and early post-contact history and some of which assumes the existence of the very conspiracy he is trying to prove the existence thereof. Like many conspiracy theorists (9/11 Truthers are a good example here), Ansell assumes that if an interlocuter cannot respond to his “evidence” with a counter-argument which accepts the proffered evidence as being true then they have no argument against his view at all. To argue with Ansell you have to accept much of his evidential base. A failure to respect to his sources (say, questioning them) just shows that you are in on the con (and likely to be the product of a Marxist institution which has blinded you to the reality and gravity of the supposed problem). As such, Ansell and his allies live in an echo chamber which, due to the way these things work, selects for the evidence that supports their views and discounts any argument which disputes that evidence as being evidence of the conspiracy against them. Ansell thinks this is the way the academic sector works with respect to our supposedly “PC” histories (gone mad) and either he thinks you fight like with like or he doesn’t appreciate that the academic sector has something above and beyond the echo chamber: we live in a combative peer review system where success is measured not just by your ability to develop and improve on existing theories but also in demolishing theories which are weak, unsubstantiated or based on poor arguments.
I’m mixed in my feelings about the likely success of the Colourblind New Zealand campaign. There is still a substantial section of our population which either views Māori as a base underclass or iwi as greedy and manipulative. It is possible that Ansell’s campaign might have legs. However, it is also possible that it will self-destruct either because Ansell’s “Either you are with me 100% or agin me” attitude, which has already turned away some potential fellow travellers, will alienate the very supporters he needs or he will end up saying something that exposes just how dark an underbelly his movement has6. Whatever the case, should his movement gain traction, I hope these two posts prove to be useful in talking through the issues Ansell is raising.
- In part, the Treatygate thesis is an extension of the Colourblind New Zealand campaign.↩
- Modern written histories and historians can also suffer from the same kinds of biases, which is why we have peer review systems. However, Ansell and company think that the academic world is involved in a conspiracy to hide the truth, so any peer review of a pro pre-Maori history which criticises that work is evidence of the conspiracy and not evidence, it seems, that historians are treating the work seriously but noting its short-comings.↩
- This post is also a good primer on Doutré’s work.↩
- His endorsement appears in this post when he wrote:
Pretend that Maori are indigenous to New Zealand, when they sailed here just before the Europeans, and suppress the mounting evidence that other races got here first.
- What is not so easily dismissed is the way in which he trades upon a particular psychological attitude towards Māori, in that Ansell and his allies display and make use of the feeling that the policy of biculturalism in Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu has not settled well with a certain section of middle-aged, middle-class Pākehā. These are the people who believe things were better for them when Māori and Māoridom were treated as an historical part of our society rather than part of its contemporary vibrancy.↩
- I haven’t talked at all, in these two posts, about the wholesale racial denigration of Māori that has gone on in the comments thread over at Ansell’s blog, and Ansell’s facile and insulting claim that so-called “Muslim fanaticism” (i.e. the reason why we are involved in a War on Terror) is equivalent to Māori unease about the so-called “benefits” of colonisation.↩